Do Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Malachi 3; Amos 5; Micah 6-7; Philippians 3

There’s an old song that keeps playing in my head today. The words I recall are these:

This world is not my home; I'm just a-passin' through.
 My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
 The angels beckon me from heaven's open door.
 And I can't feel at home in this world anymore. 

The events of the last several weeks that culminated in the events of January 6, 2021 just confirm to me that I don’t belong to this world. I knew there would be a time when many people calling themselves “Christians” would turn away from the gospel of Jesus and the love of God; evidently that time is now. I am horrified by the events at the US Capitol on Wednesday. Ironically, Wednesday was also Epiphany, a day set aside by liturgical traditions to remember the Magi and to ponder the baptism of Jesus by John. It was at the baptism that John introduced Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:19-34). Epiphany, a sudden illumination of something. Epiphany, the recognition of Jesus as fully God and fully man. The wonder of the Incarnation, now a man beginning his public ministry. How far the Church has fallen from the wonder of God’s mercy and grace for us. How devastating is that fall!

The Church in the US and much of the West is broken. It has been broken by teachers and pastors who sought recognition and fame. It has been broken by church attendees who stay for the music, but leave as soon as the teaching gets serious. Cultural Christianity (churchianity) focuses on blessings instead of trials and boasting instead of truth. The Church in the US, for the most part, has moved away from worshipping the righteous and holy God who created all things and holds all things together, replacing the Father with a national identity and the human leaders they elect.

28 Tweets About Trump's Rioters In The Capitol Building
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images Retrieved from Buzzfeed

Whether or not people believe that the 2016 or 2020 elections resulted in fraudulent officials is irrelevant. The kind of violence exhibited on January 6 was illegal, seditious, and wrong on every level. Those who hung up the name of Jesus in the process defiled his holy name. Amos wrote that God’s people must seek good, and not evil, especially when they live in a country that thrives on the titillation of wickedness. “Hate evil and love good,” he wrote. “Establish justice in the gate.” Amos goes on to describe how the Lord looks upon self-indulgent and proud people who claim they have “rights” because of their affiliation with God. The Lord abhors that pride. Amos spoke for the Lord saying, “I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen.” Displays of nationalism and religiosity do not honor the Lord. He is not the God of the United States of America. He is the Lord of ALL creation. To honor the Lord means His followers pursue justice rolling down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God’s righteousness, not self-righteousness. The actions of people on January 6 revealed the utter wickedness that dwells within all people. They pursued a path that would vindicate their self-righteousness and the false gospel of nationalism. They put a political figure in the place of the Lord.

Nations rise and nations fall. Institutions are built up and torn down. There will come a day when the US will fall, just as every empire has fallen. But the people of God are not to be part of that destruction. We are to seek peace. We are to pray for the welfare of where we live (Jeremiah 29:4-14), not listening to those who seek to deceive. God is abundantly clear about what is good: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the Lord. None of the humility, kindness, nor justice were on display by the people who called themselves Christians while they broke into the Capitol, wreaking havoc in their violence. Make no mistake, these people were not acting in the will of God and God was not glorified. In fact, Malachi wrote that people like those who use the name of Jesus and the idea of Christian the way they did on January 6 weary the Lord with their words. They say that doing evil is doing good and that God is too slow in enacting justice. These claims illustrate just how self-serving these people are. They worship a nation, a Constitution, and institution, not the Living Lord.

The Lord will refine His Church. The pandemic has revealed those who used church as a social gathering place by closing the physical doors. The ugliness of the campaigns of 2020 revealed just how deep the corruption of ethical behavior has become. The riots of summer 2020 demonstrated the inadequacy of church teaching, especially with the notion of the prosperity gospel or the social gospel that infiltrated many churches. The refining has begun. The heat has been turned up, and unless there is general repentance and lamentation of the Church’s failure to teach the Word to the people, things will continue to get more difficult. All the dross must be burned away in order for those of us who seek Jesus first to fully reflect Him in all that we do and say.

In the end, however, this world, this country, this national institution is just a place of passing as we journey to our eternal home. For those who fear the Lord, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing. We will look to the Lord, waiting for the God of our salvation. He hears us. He is our light. His love is steadfast.

And that song? It has an interesting story that I’ll share another day. For now, enjoy one of the first recordings of it by the composer, Jessie May Hill:

This World is Not my Home. Jessie May Hill (May, 1927)
Philippians 3:  17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Philosophy v Truth

Titus 3:4-7; Hosea 6:3

Living in the world of academia, I witness the comings and goings of all kinds of philosophies that people create in hopes of making society a better place for everyone. They try to uplift people by bringing others down. They give objects the same “rights” as humans (except for unborn humans–somehow unborn humans are of less values than rivers.) They blame systems for the ills of society and they pursue individuals whose world views and philosophies are different as enemies rather than alternate points of view.

“Goodness” is not a human construct. It comes from the holiness of the Creator, and there is not one person living on this planet who can define goodness without God. No one is without sin. No one group has a monopoly on the “right” philosophy, which is why philosophies come and go with the generations.

In my own lifetime, I have lived under philosophies of extreme licentiousness and extreme prudishness. In academic circles, structuralism (the idea that everything in human culture has a particular place in a pattern of structures) has been replaced with varying degrees of post-structuralism (there is no place for individuals because individualism is a fiction–there is no self; there is only a combination of knowledge and tension in conflict.) Post-modern, post- truth, post-intentional–these are all philosophies in the academic realm that attempt to explain and describe human culture, and they are just as convoluted as they appear.

Truth is. Competing philosophies are not Truth; in fact, most of them distain the possibility of Truth. There might be “my truth” or “your truth,” but even these ideas are more for convenience than for inquiry. Most of the time, people who pursue these errant philosophies wind up frustrated and even angry about their inability to coerce culture into something no one really understands.

Hosea 6:3

The beauty of scripture is that it IS Truth. It is unassailable because it is the Word of the Creator who is outside the boundaries of time, space, and culture. It cannot be diminished, not can it be undone. Competing philosophies cannot counter the Word. Goodness is grounded in the reality of God. It doesn’t change.

This is our confidence. When we know and press on to knowing more of the Lord, He will come to us. He will establish us in Truth, not philosophy.

Mercy and love in action

James 2:1-13

No matter what is going on in the world or in our culture, our testimony for Jesus is borne out by the way we honor our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to ONE body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, serving ONE God (Ephesians 4). Showing any kind of partiality is wrong. The heart of the fight against injustice, racism, classism, ageism, and all the other “isms” is the way in which we honor our brothers and sisters in Christ.

That is easy enough in theory, but is can be hard in practice, especially if we disagree about things like politics, music preferences, worship styles, clothing, and all the other things that divide us. If we are really serious about our claim to be Jesus followers, we must be known as people who default to grace, mercy, and love the way Jesus did. That means we don’t succumb to the temptations to fight back over insignificant things. It means we hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior than those who do not yet understand the gospel.

Mercy triumphs

We also need to stop comparing sins. There are no greater or lesser sins; sin is sin and no one can claim to be sin free. Knowing we have been redeemed by Jesus is not license to sin in any way (Romans 6). We must remember that the Law reveals the need we all have for God’s mercy and our response must be to show mercy to the people around us. That includes the people in the church with whom we may disagree. Mercy triumphs.

Jonah’s drama, God’s mercy

Jonah 4

So, one might think Jonah would get excited when the whole city of Nineveh repented of their violence and false religions. But no. Jonah was ticked off. Why? Because he decided the God was too gracious, too merciful, too patient, and too loving. He certainly didn’t think so when he was surrounded by digestive juices! But this was Jonah’s problem- and often ours.

Jonah sarcophagus

We tend to think that God loves us for our sakes. We are good, so God loves us. Evil people aren’t worthy of God’s love and mercy. Jonah was so mad he said he would be better off dead (again.) We may not go that far, but do we (I absolutely include myself) truly rejoice when God works in a mighty way for someone else? Someone that we don’t think deserves it? It’s one of the dangers of check-box Christianity: we think that because we perform X, we are more deserving of God’s grace and mercy than someone who doesn’t.


That’s not God’s view. God’s ways are so much higher than ours that we can’t possibly understand His work (Isaiah 55:8-9). Jesus told Peter to focus on his own work and not be in John’s business (John 21:22). As believers, our responsibility is to work out (not for) our salvation and do the work he laid out for us individually (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:12-13).

God gave Jonah the object lesson of a plant. When Jonah huffed and puffed his way out of the city, certain that their repentance would be short-lived, God made a plant grow up overnight to give Jonah shade. The plant pleased Jonah, and he sat back to watch the destruction of his enemies. But God then cause the plant to die off and blow away on hot desert winds, which again made Jonah want to die. God then pointed out that Jonah was more interested in the plant than the people of Nineveh. And then we hear no more of Jonah. There isn’t an explanation of what happened to him, but he doesn’t show up anymore as a prophet.

I have to wonder. If his attitude was that the people of Nineveh did nor deserve God’s mercy even AFTER all that God did for him, how could he continue to speak for the Lord? Or maybe he did get himself together and become part of Nineveh’s culture, showing them how to worship God. Could be either. Or neither. Eventually Nineveh is destroyed for good, so their repentance didn’t endure, but God extended every opportunity. He still does.

For those who are believers, the question remains, are we motivated to do the work God appointed for us to do out of love for the Father or out of duty to some invisible check list? Our attitudes do not keep God from working, but they do prevent us from enjoying His work. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be part of God’s work cheerfully and experience the joy that comes in walking with Jesus.

Jonah: When all else fails

Then Jonah prayed. Jonah 2

What does it take for us to turn to God? Jonah had to book passage on an outbound ship, survive a terrifying storm, convince a bunch of sailors to pitch him overboard, and get swallowed by a great fish where he was tangled in seaweed and looking death in the eyes.

Jonah’s situation was not God’s original plan. Jonah got himself in dire circumstances by his choices. God used the natural consequences of Jonah’s decisions to make Himself known, but it is impossible to run from God’s call.

Psalm 139 says, ” Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Jonah was in a hell of his own making, but God, in His mercy, continued to hold out an opportunity for repentance, and Jonah finally acquiesced. He had to be completely out of options and even then it took three days for him to admit he couldn’t find a way out.

But he did repent. And found himself able to thank the Lord for His salvation. With a changed attitude, God released Jonah from the great fish (much to its relief, I suspect) and Jonah found himself on dry ground. He was filthy, smelling of seaweed and decay, but he was alive to tell his story.

It’s sometimes tempting to tell God our plans and the way we want things to go, but God’s will prevails. Jonah could have stayed clean and avoided his big fish story if he had obeyed God the first time. But, like us, Jonah didn’t understand God’s desire to save the people of Nineveh- people Jonah didn’t like. Whether or not Jonah approved of their politics, music, worship styles, food preferences, and the rest, God told him that they were part of His plan.
God may call on us to do something we don’t like or don’t understand. His ways are so much higher than ours! We are much better off if we obey the first time He says, “Arise and go.”

Jonah: Swallowed and wallowing

Jonah 1:17

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.


Full stop.


Let me think about this. Jonah figures he would be better off dead than to obey the Lord and preach in Nineveh. He did not seek the Lord in this decision, and he did not consider what might happen to the sailors whom he told to throw him overboard. He made decisions based on his own fears. I do wonder why he didn’t jump himself. Why did he need to be thrown by others? God ultimately used that decision to reveal Himself to the sailors, so they at least could be saved.

So, Jonah figures death by drowning is his preferred option. He did not repent, nor did he vow to obey the Lord. But God. In His mercy. Appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. I consulted a number of commentaries (on Bible Hub) to see what the Hebrew word meant. It means “great fish.” Some of the commentaries tried to explain away the notion, saying it was really a ship with a whale as its sign (that to me is just silly), while others try to guess what kind of fish is might have been (shark? dog fish?) I suspect it was probably some species now extinct, but it really doesn’t matter. One thing is certain: Jonah, expecting death by drowning, found himself wallowing in the muck and bile and partially digested bits of some sea creatures belly!

How often does God allow us to wallow in our sin while preserving our lives, giving us every possible opportunity to repent? His mercy is for our sakes, and also for the work He has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). When we run from God, we may well find ourselves swallowed and wallowing while God patiently waits for us to come to our senses.